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If everyone always agreed on everything, there would be no collective dilemmas. (And obviously, this course would not even have seen the light of day.) In real life however, we cannot seem to escape collective dilemmas, i.e. we find it difficult to agree on solutions for just about all our plans and conflicting interests. This is as true for two individuals trying to decide which movie to see, as it is for the European Union to come up with a common monetary policy. In the end, we all have differing needs, preferences, and goals. Sometimes we simply disagree fundamentally on the basics of the problem, like the death penalty. In other cases we agree that something needs to be done, but we disagree on the necessary steps to take (think climate change, for instance). And finally, there are so-called collective action problems: situations in which all individuals would be better off cooperating, but fail to do so because of conflicting interests that discourage joint action (think ‘free riding’ and the ubiquitous ‘prisoner’s dilemma’). 

Obviously, collective dilemmas are well suited to an interdisciplinary approach. That is exactly what this course will do. We will pick topics from a broad menu. The first two sessions will determine what collective dilemmas are and ask whether it would ever be possible to develop a society from scratch without social dilemmas. The next two sessions will enter the political world. A leading question here will be: is parliamentary democracy the best way to solve political (and socio-economic) collective dilemmas? (‘Definitely not!’ a populist would claim!) Then we’ll move into the realm of ‘greed is good!’ (in other words: the social dilemma of the distribution of wealth). Think Elon Musk and other billionaire-philanthropists, for instance. Next, we’ll deal with intergenerational collective dilemmas, taking past injustices (like slavery) and future injustices (like the environment) as examples. The final sessions will deal with international collective dilemmas (e.g. how to handle a nuclear state like North Korea) and finally with human rights collective dilemmas (e.g. should prisoners have the right to vote? Can we ban religion from public life, like the French laïcité intends to do, because it is seen as an insurmountable obstacle to solving collective action problems)?

In other words, this is an interdisciplinary course jam-packed with dilemmas! To be honest, there is little chance that we will really solve any of them during the course. But being aware of the dynamics of collective dilemmas will undoubtedly improve your everyday life! Promise! And of course many – if not most – of the dilemmas will be highly topical and current affairs will play a major role in this course. So watch the news!


Christ Klep


All lectures will take place on-campus and we assume you can be physically present during the scheduled hours. You can find the timetable on Datanose.


Registration is possible for students participating in an Honours programme. The registration for the Honours courses will start on June 5, 10 am -  June 11, 11.59 pm. You can register through the online registration form that will appear on Honoursmodules IIS. (registration is NOT through SIS)

Please note: There is no guarantee for placement if you register after June 11, so make sure you register on time. You will hear which course(s) you are registered for before June 30. 

For questions about registration, please contact us at:

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